We can’t self-assess without info

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Someone holds a barbecue lighter in their left hand and is using it to light a surgical mask on fire.
COVID is a grease fire, and the government’s got the garden hose on full blast. Lee Lim

How can people be expected to monitor themselves when what they monitor has been misconstrued? 

If you head to the Government of Saskatchewan’s current website page for COVID-19 information and care, it is clear from the language alone that the government is taking a hands-off approach; it’s everybody for themselves.  

To start, the COVID-19 homepage has the word “self” listed 10 separate times. Self-testing, self-monitoring, and self-management are positioned as the triage trinity for mitigation of this pandemic in our fourth year. From that page you can navigate to “Living with COVID,” another page which continues to inform people how to assess their own risks and recommends – but does not require – self-isolation if you test positive for the virus. 

In January, I wrote a piece for the Carillon titled “We should treat COVID more like an STI” wherein I talked about the effectiveness of proactive measures, and I’d like to return to that sentiment from a slightly different angle. Catherine Demoliou, Christos Papaneophytou, and Vicky Nicolaidou published an article in the International Journal of Medical Sciences last October looking at the similarities between the impact of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID) and HIV. Demoliou, Papaneophytou, and Nicolaidou note that even though the way these viruses spread and the symptoms they can cause are very different, the way they attack a person’s immune system is very similar, as are the long-term effects of each.  

T-cells are a type of white blood cell that our bodies use to fight infections, and they are essential to the way our immune system is able to adapt and find new ways to fight new viruses, diseases, and infections throughout our lifetime. The problem is that, in both people with HIV and people who have had COVID, the amount of T-cells is lower than normal. That means individuals are more vulnerable to infections, more likely to catch a virus or flu than before, and that it will take more time and effort for their body to adapt and fight off infections. 

To expand on that, there is a growing area of research dedicated to COVID’s impact on the brain and its functioning, which has been steadily increasing with higher reports of ‘brain fog’ post-COVID infections. ​​National Geographic, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Frontiers in Psychology, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease are just a handful of publications that have published studies on the similarities between COVID and Alzheimer’s impacts on the brain. While none have stated that COVID is some sub-type of Alzheimer’s or that it can lead to its early onset, some brains of those who have died from COVID show similar types of damage in similar areas when compared to brains of people with Alzheimer’s.  

For all these reasons and more, I am immensely distressed by our province’s choice to remove the very last of masking mandates that applied to healthcare facilities. I am frustrated by the government’s continued positioning of COVID as nothing more than a mild flu or respiratory infection. I’m angry that the information released on COVID infections and outbreaks in the province are not reported independently and in depth, but rather they have been put in the community respiratory illness surveillance program (CRISP) reports.  

What the provincial government fails to realize in their consistent pull-back of policies is that their policies impact how people self-assess their risk. They encourage residents to monitor themselves, to test themselves, and to keep themselves safe, but are not clear on exactly what people are to be keeping themselves safe from. Of course hardly anyone here is masking, of course we have some of the highest COVID hospitalization and death rates in the country at the moment, because the government’s decisions do not show residents that this virus is any sort of big deal.  

Let’s say you asked me if it was safe to cross the street. If I told you to be careful, to wait until the lights at the intersection turn green, and to look both ways, but I didn’t tell you there was a piano falling from above that crushes you as soon as you step into the street, would you believe that I had given you all the information you needed to assess your risk properly? If the government expects us all to watch out for ourselves, the literal least they could do would be making sure we have the information necessary to gauge that risk. Anything less is negligence at best. 

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